Taking ‘labour’ out of ‘Labour Party’

FORUM: Bernard Miller takes a hard, then-and-now look at the Labour Party candidate selection procedures

Thursday, 17th February — By Bernard Miller

Bernard Miller cut out

Bernard Miller

A TALE of two systems (with apologies to Charles Dickens).

It was the best of times – then. It was the worst of times – now.

Rule-breaking ruling Tories struggling nation­ally to get the “party” out of Conservative Party could take a leaf from Camden’s book. There, over the past decade, the ruling party has success­fully got the “labour” out of Labour Party.

Then: For years Labour had an open, democratic system for selecting candi­dates for council elections.

In the year before elections, all members were notified and invited to stand for selection (if their membership was up-to-date and they did not support parties that stood against Labour).

Invited to speak at their branch meetings, if their branch voted approval, their names were sent to Camden’s Local Government Committee (LGC), made up of Labour branch delegates plus one trade union, one affiliated organisation and one Labour councillor per constituency.

That compiled a panel, circulated to all branches to shortlist, interview, and select candidates.

Simple, democratic, participatory, representa­tive of members’ views and completely open to public scrutiny.

Sometimes it threw up strange bedfellows.

For three years in the 1970s I was secretary of the LGC. We co-ordinated candidate selection and the running of election campaigns. It was uncontroversial.

Now: The Tony Blair years changed that, creating a new, less representative, body the Local Campaign Forum (LCF) to co-ordinate local elections for New Labour.

In Camden the process is conducted in secret. Individuals inform the LCF of their wish to stand.

The LCF seeks and scrutinises secret reports from branch chairs. If their criteria, never publicised, are met, individuals are invited to panels which interview them and now, as this paper has reported, systematically weed out any viewed as left-wing.

For sitting councillors reports are received from the chief whip, until now the recently-disgraced Lazzaro Pietragnoli, self-confessed liar.

Panels are composed of two people selected by the LCF and one non-Camden person who chairs.

Those who get through the panels are put on a list, circulated to branches, which can invite them to present them­selves for shortlisting and, if shortlisted, to speak at a selection meeting.

Individuals are informed of the content of their secret branch reports only if they appeal to the regional Labour Party after rejection.

This newspaper has reported individuals being rejected out of hand, never making it to interview panels, sitting councillors deselected based on untrue reports submitted about them, and the LCF ending up short of people from whom to create a list, forced to reopen applications, firmly excluding anyone already rejected.

Four years ago I offered my name. It was an insulting experience. I knew nothing of the secret report, turned up for panel interview, and I was asked two questions.

Would I accept the Labour whip? I said yes.

What would I do if I disagreed with a policy proposed council policy?

I quoted the procedures in Labour’s rule book and council Labour group standing orders for such situations.

I was rejected on two grounds – lack of knowl­edge of council procedures and Labour Party rules and the claim that they did not believe I would accept the Labour whip.

Entering an appeal hearing I was given the “secret” branch report which contained untrue and misleading statements with no chance to respond. The appeal was rejected.

In my three years as LGC secretary we never needed appeals and always had more people than seats for the panel of potential candidates.

Although the LCF was less representative than LGCs, some time before the last elections Mike Katz, now LCF chair, changed its rules to curtail the limited trade union participation. That led to appeals, never resolved.

In 2019 the Labour Party conference voted to return to an LGC system.

In Camden in 2021, although the LCF had not been operating, it was claimed there was no time to introduce an LGC and the LCF was resuscitated.

The outcome was, as this newspaper has reported, the rout of any candidate the right-wing felt might challenge their world view.

One outcome has been many Labour departures from the Labour Party.

• Bernard Miller is a writer

Related Articles